Christopher Patrick “Chris” Baird (born 25 February 1982) is a Northern Irish footballer who plays for Premier League side West Bromwich Albion and the Northern Ireland national football team. He has previously played for Southampton and Fulham.
Baird started his career at Northern Irish club, Ballymena United, before moving to Southampton in 1998.
Baird made his debut for Southampton on 22 March 2003 as a late substitute for David Prutton in a 2–2 draw at home with Aston Villa. His second appearance came in a 6–1 defeat at Arsenal, when he came on after 26 minutes, with Arsenal already 5–0 up.
Baird’s first start came on the final day of the 2002–03 League season, in a 1–0 win at Manchester City. A week later, he started for Southampton in the 2003 FA Cup Final, also against Arsenal. Southampton lost the match 1–0, but Baird was voted as the Saints man of the match.
He subsequently made two successful loan spells away from Southampton – two months at Walsall, where he played regularly in the first-team, and a month at Watford.
In the 2003–04 season, Baird made only four league appearances for Southampton, and none at all in the following season. Following Southampton’s relegation from the Premiership, Baird re-established himself in the Southampton squad and was singled out for praise by Southampton manager George Burley. He started 16 league games in the 2005–06 season.
In the first game of the 2006–07 season, away to Derby County on 6 August 2006, he was drafted into the centre half position when Claus Lundekvam went off injured in the sixth minute. On 25 November 2006, in his 50th first-team game for Southampton, he scored his first professional goal in a 2–1 victory over Luton Town.
He spent most of the 2006–07 season in central defence, and at the end of the season he was the winner of the Saints Player of the Season award.
Baird left Southampton on 12 July 2007 to move to Premier League club Fulham for £3.025m. Having initially worn the number 34 shirt, he changed to the number 6 for the 2009–10 season. Although typically a centre-back, and often surplus to requirements behind the rarely injured pairing of Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland, manager Roy Hodgson brought out a versatility in Baird which made him indispensable for long periods at Fulham, where first he filled in very successfully at right-back when John Paintsil was injured, and then due to the injuries to Dickson Etuhu and Danny Murphy he was often used in a central midfield role during the 2009–10 season, returning to right-back when they regained fitness. His success at right-back also earned him a start in the 2010 UEFA Europa League Final against Atlético Madrid ahead of the fit-again Paintsil.
On 14 September 2010 Baird signed a new contract with Fulham, keeping him at Craven Cottage until at least the summer of 2013, and on 28 December 2010 he scored his first and second goals for Fulham against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium in a 2–0 victory. This was voted the second Fulham “Goal of the Season” by the Fulham fans, just behind his team-mate Mousa Dembélé. Both were long-range strikes, earning him the nickname “Bairdinho” amongst Fulham fans.
Baird was charged with abusive and insulting gestures towards a match official during a match against Liverpool on 9 May 2011, after he played the full 90 minutes and picked up a yellow card by referee Lee Mason in the 5–2 defeat at Craven Cottage. He then subsequently missed the last two games of the season against Birmingham City and Arsenal and was replaced by Philippe Senderos.
The 2011–12 season was a less successful one for Baird. With the arrival of Martin Jol as manager he found it difficult to get games, having to rely mostly on injuries to in-form right-back Stephen Kelly, but his proven versatility meant that he was almost always on the bench, and was the go-to substitute for central midfield, right-back and sometimes centre-back as well.
With Kelly falling out of favour in the early part of the 2012–13 season, and injuries to players like Mahamadou Diarra, plus the departures of Danny Murphy, Mousa Dembélé and Dickson Etuhu, Baird has become a regular in central midfield again, alongside Steve Sidwell, and with just those two goals at Stoke to his name for Fulham in 113 games prior to 20 October 2012, he scored in consecutive weeks at the end of October, the first being the winner in the 1–0 defeat of Aston Villa and then scoring a header in a 3–3 draw with Reading on 27 October 2012.
Baird was one of twelve players released by Fulham at the end of the 2012–13 Premier League season. After leaving Fulham, he attracted the interest of Queens Park Rangers, Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers.
Despite training with QPR for two weeks and receiving a contract offer, Baird signed for Reading on 20 September 2013 on a deal until January 2014. He made his debut the next day in a 3–1 win over Derby at Pride Park.
After being left without a club since leaving Reading in January, Baird signed for Burnley on 20 March 2014 on a short-term deal until May 2014.
Baird returned to the Premier League on 7 July 2014, signing a one-year contract at West Bromwich Albion.
In June 2003, Baird made his Northern Ireland début against Italy in a 2–0 defeat. Since then, he has been a regular member of the national side, despite playing little domestically between 2003 and 2005. .
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